The powerlessness of trauma had left me without a sense of autonomy. For too long I had mindlessly enacted the relational templates of my upbringing, unable to choose when to say yes and when to say no, and enmeshed in a destructive morass of compulsive care-giving alongside chronic self-neglect. I said yes to everyone else, andno to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.
Carolyn Spring, Boundaries
Responsibility and Overresponsibility
Responsibility and blame can be tricky for people who have experienced traumatic experiences, especially in childhood. A neglected child may grow up having to take responsibility for caring for themselves, and possibly other siblings or a parent. The basic emotional and practical needs include regular food, clean clothing, medical care, being shown how to manage their own emotions and being comforted when hurt or sad. Adults responsibilities are pushed onto a neglected child; instead of being gradually learning small responsibilities in an age-appropriate way. Accepting responsibility for too many things can then become automatic, and saying “no” to things becomes very difficult.
Many children (and adults) who have been abused also feel a lot of self-blame, and shame. An abuser (or abusers) may compound the effect of abuse with statements blaming their victim, such as “it was your fault”, “you made me do it”. Others who are told about or become aware of the abuse may struggle to accept it, and engage in “victim-blaming“. The only person responsible for the abuse (or another poor behavior) is the person who carried it out.
Trauma victims commonly blame themselves. Blaming oneself for the shame of being a victim is recognized by trauma specialists as a defense against the extreme powerlessness we feel in the wake of a traumatic event. Self-blame continues the illusion of control shock destroys, but prevents us from the necessary working through of the traumatic feelings and memories to heal and recover.”
― Sandra Lee Dennis
Posttraumatic stress disorder’s diagnostic criteria also recognizes that trauma can cause distorted thinking (cognitive distortions) which result in inappropriate self-blame. Working towards facing the self-blame means facing the very painful reality of being totally powerless during the time of the trauma(s). But it is often recognized that challenging and working through feelings of inappropriate self-blame allow survivors of trauma to heal.
- Was it my fault? Self blame and survivors (pandys.org, refers to rape)
- Out of the prison of self-blame (alicemiller.com)
- Externalizing responsibility vs internalizing-responsibility (discussingdissociation.com)
- The roots of self-blame and blame sharing (emergingfrombroken.com)
- Ten steps towards recovery (PODS-online.org.uk)